Updated: August 18, 2017. Originally Posted: March 2013.
We ladies often have a tough time packing light. We want to look fashionable, but we don’t have a lot of space to pack everything. This travel packing list will help you pack only the clothes and accessories that you need — while still looking fashionable. It can be tough, but it isn’t impossible if you follow this packing guide. We don’t only focus on fashion… we also have recommended travel accessories, toiletries, electronics, and other items that will help you get the most out of your vacation! This guide is geared toward travel in Europe, but the principles are universal for all international travel.
HEY DUDES! Check out our new Men’s Packing List for Backpacking Europe — it is a similar guide to this one, but the suggestions are geared toward guys.
Women’s Travel Packing List for Europe Outline
- Advice About Fashion and Packing Light
- Travel Accessories
- Electronics for Travel
- First Aid Items
- What Not to Bring
Advice About Fashion and Packing Light
Packing light isn’t easy for many of my fellow female travelers (I still struggle, myself), but the benefits to traveling light are immense. First, it allows you to travel more freely and easily. You might not realize it now, but you’re going to encounter crowded public transportation (usually with lots of stairs), bustling cobblestone streets, small trains/planes, narrow hallways and staircases, and a wide range of other stressful situations that make traveling with a lot of stuff extremely difficult.
I’ve encountered girls out there that had so much stuff that they needed someone to help them stand up when they put on their backpack. At this point, your bag is just an anchor. To avoid this, I suggest limiting yourself to around 20lbs of gear (including your bag).
Tips for Choosing Clothing for Travel
- Mix & Match Your Colors and Styles — The key to being fashionable and packing light is choosing clothes that are versatile. Everything you bring should look good when paired with any other article of clothing you have. You should be able to blindly pull out any top and bottom from your bag and pair them together. If you can’t do this, you should reconsider what you’ve chosen.
- Choose Low Maintenance Clothing — Make sure the stuff you bring doesn’t have special washing instructions — like dry-clean only.
- Forget the ‘Single Use’ Items — That super cute dress that you’ll probably only wear one night should be left behind. Instead, bring something that can be dressed up or dressed down since it’s more versatile. A good guideline is that if you aren’t going to wear it at least three times, then you shouldn’t bring it.
- Fashion Accessories — A lightweight scarf is an easy way to change up your wardrobe. Plus, European women love scarves, so it’s a great way to look like a local.
- Bring a Smaller Bag/Backpack — You can only bring as much as your bag can hold, so force yourself to bring less by buying a smaller backpack.
- Buy Clothes in Europe — The shopping in Europe is amazing; you can always buy more clothes when you travel.
For more great European fashion tips, visit our guide to dressing like a European.
Women’s Travel Packing List for Clothing
Remember, versatility is key when choosing what to wear. I suggest sticking to earth tone colors because they hide dirt/stains better, but this is just personal preference. Look for fabrics that are wrinkle-resistant because it is hard to keep your clothes wrinkle-free when traveling. Ideally, these fabrics should also be quick-drying if you need to wash your clothes in the hostel (but it is easy enough to find a laundromat in any major city).
Four or Five Shirts — I recommend a mixture of both short- and long-sleeve tops. Make sure to check the average weather for when you’re traveling since it will dictate which type of top to bring. Long-sleeve shirts are more versatile since the sleeves can be rolled up if it gets warm.
Light Sweater/Cardigan – Even in the summer, it is nice to have a sweater or cardigan if it gets cold. You might want something a little warmer if you’re going to colder climates. These are also good for layering with other tops. Obviously, you probably don’t need one if you’re traveling to really hot climates.
One or Two Dresses — Look for a lightweight dress that can be worn casually during the day, but can also be dressed up if you go out at night.
T-shirts and Tank Tops — Pack a few t-shirts or tank tops for hot days, to use as undershirts, and for wearing in the hostel. I like the ExOfficio Lacy Shelf Bra Cami to use as an undershirt or to sleep in. It is super lightweight and breathable, and it will air-dry overnight, so it’s easy to wash in the sink.
Dark Skinny Jeans or Trousers — Jeans are universal and everyone in Europe wears them. Dark jeans are perfect because they look great during the day and they can be easily dressed up for going out at night. Skinny jeans are in fashion and are probably the safest bet. Additionally, a pair of lightweight trousers is also a nice option since they still look classy and they’re a bit more comfortable in the summer.
Skirts — I like to bring two or three skirts (a mix of short and long) because they’re not only cute, comfortable, and cool, but they’re lightweight so they’re easy to pack.
Shorts — Europeans do wear shorts but I wouldn’t wear them any place fancy. I prefer wearing skirts when it’s warm, but shorts are still a perfectly fine option for exploring the city or having a picnic in the park. If you do wear shorts, I recommend bringing a fashionable and well-fitting pair (definitely nothing sporty). Don’t forget to bring a pair of comfortable casual shorts for sleeping or wearing around the hostel.
Underwear and Socks
Bras — It is important to bring three or four comfortable bras. I just bring the bras that I already own, but a lot of travelers recommend bringing at least one quick-drying sports bra.
Underwear — I always tend to overpack underwear because I’m lazy and don’t like to do laundry. Typically I bring 6-10 pairs. I really like the ExOfficio Underwear. They aren’t sexy, but they are amazing for traveling because they’re super breathable and they dry very quickly. I just wash these in the sink and then they’re dry the next day. They also have anti-odor properties so you can get away with wearing a pair for more than one day. ExOfficio offers multiple styles. They are a bit expensive, but they are a favorite among experienced travelers. For a more in-depth article about travel underwear, check out our favorite travel underwear!
Thermal Underwear — These are optional, and you’ll only need them in the winter. Amazon has a wide range of thermal underwear for women that will all work well. The main thing you want to avoid is cotton, so you’ll want to buy something that is made out of a synthetic material or Merino wool.
Leggings and Pantyhose — Sheer pantyhose are super fashionable in Europe. They are a great way to add a little sex appeal to an outfit. Leggings are also fashionable and don’t take up any space in your backpack.
Socks — Having high-quality socks is super important. Trust me on this. Nice socks can get a little pricey, but I highly recommend buying a few pairs (and good socks will last a long time so you can wear them after your trip is over). The best socks are made of fine wool — yes, you can wear wool socks in the summer. Lightweight wool will actually keep your feel cool and sweat-free. There are also synthetic blends that perform well.
When buying socks, look for the following criteria:
- Moisture-Wicking – Your feet will sweat a lot (especially since you’ll be doing a lot of walking), so you want a sock that draws moisture away from your feet. Keeping your feet dry helps eliminate odor and stops the formation of painful blisters.
- Quick-Drying – It is pretty easy to wash your socks in the sink, so you want a pair that will dry overnight (about 6 hours).
- Odor-Eliminating – Some synthetic socks have special anti-bacterial features that help eliminate odor. Lightweight wool socks will also do this naturally (lightweight wool can also work well in the summer).
- Avoid Cotton! – Cotton socks soak up moisture and won’t dry well once wet. They will also start to smell very quickly.
A quality pair of socks can be worn 2-3 times before they start to stink (although you’ll want to rotate the days you wear each pair).
Recommended Sock Brands:
- SmartWool Socks – I love my SmartWool socks. I wear them all the time. They have a wide range of socks available (from lightweight to heavyweight). SmartWool also makes Hide and Seek Socks and Secret Sleuth Socks which are great “no show” socks.
- Darn Tough Socks – Made in Vermont, this brand of really nice socks will last for years. They get great reviews.
- Wigwam Socks – Another quality brand that is worth checking out.
- Thorlo – Thorlo makes quality socks that aren’t too expensive.
For a more in-depth article about the wonderful world of socks, check out our favorite socks for travel.
Shoes for Travel
Ohh shoes… why must you be so difficult? I struggle with knowing what type of shoes to bring and I know this is very common amongst all travelers. If you think you can, I say to only bring one pair of shoes. They should be something comfortable since you’re going to be doing a ton of walking. If you can’t comfortably walk in your shoes for over three hours, you shouldn’t bring them. But I think the maximum pairs of shoes you should pack is two.
For your main pair, I suggest comfortable flats that can be either dressed up or dressed down. Additionally, I also think a pair of fashionable (and comfortable) sneakers is fine — but leave the running shoes at home (unless you’re not worried about being fashionable).
If you’re less concerned about fashion, then waterproof hiking shoes are a good option. These are nice because they’re comfortable and you don’t have to worry about wet feet. They probably aren’t necessary during the summer when rain is infrequent, but you might consider them for travel during the spring/fall/winter since rain is common during these seasons.
A cute pair of comfortable sandals is also a good option if you travel in the summer. Sandals are also nice because they are generally lightweight and easy to pack. Gladiator sandals are popular among Europeans.
Bring a cheap pair of rubber sandals for hostel showers (who knows what goes on in there…). They are also nice if you visit the beach.
But what about that sexy pair of high heels? Honestly, I’d leave them at home. You really don’t need them, but if you do bring them, make sure they are comfortable enough to walk in. A wedge shoe will make it easier to walk on cobblestone, but they are heavy. I brought a pair on my first trip and I think I only wore them one night.
For a more in-depth guide to finding the best shoes, check out our guide to cute and comfortable travel shoes.
Jackets and Rain Gear
If you’re traveling during the summer, you probably don’t need a jacket or rain gear (although, summer nights can still get a bit chilly the farther north you go). Additionally, if you plan on traveling during the spring, fall, and/or winter, you’ll probably have a few rainy days (it will still rain during the summer but not as much as the other three seasons). Therefore, having a normal jacket or a rainproof jacket can be nice. I’ve listed a few options below for ideas of what type might meet your travel needs.
Fleece Jacket – Fleece is a good material because it provides a lot of warmth but it isn’t too bulky. If you’re going to buy one, I suggest getting a black jacket because it is the most versatile. Check out these fleece jackets.
Rain Jacket – A rain jacket is an item that takes up a lot of space and is rarely used, so unless you’re going to visit notoriously rainy destinations, I would classify this as optional. You probably don’t need one if you’re only visiting cities (just bring an umbrella and duck into a shop/café if it really starts to rain). Additionally, most 100% waterproof rain jackets are not very breathable, so you end up feeling damp and sweaty. Check out these rain jackets.
Softshell Jacket – A softshell jacket is basically a nice compromise between a fleece and a rain jacket. A softshell isn’t completely waterproof, but it will repel 98% of the rain you come across. Unlike a true “rain jacket”, a softshell is breathable, so it will let moisture (i.e., sweat) escape. This is much more comfortable than a balmy rain jacket. A softshell jacket isn’t quite as warm as a fleece, but it will still provide a lot of warmth. Check out these softshell jackets.
I recommend REI for the best selection of jackets.
Sunglasses — Try to find something fashionable, but I wouldn’t bring an expensive pair because glasses are easy to break/lose — especially when traveling. During my last trip, I used cheap $15 “designer-inspired” glasses you find at those kiosks at the mall. If you do bring sunglasses, make sure you bring a hard case for them so you can just throw your glasses in your bag.
Scarf — A scarf is a staple of any European wardrobe. These make great souvenirs, so you can always buy one or two during your travels.
Sarong — A sarong is a versatile accessory that can be used as a wrap, shawl, scarf, light blanket, and a picnic blanket.
Purse or Day Bag Backpack — You’ll want a bag or purse that isn’t too big, but it should be large enough to carry the essentials (camera, notebook, light sweater, etc). If you bring a purse, it should have a zipper, and the backpack should ideally have lockable zippers.
Choosing a backpack is too complicated to outline here. We have a guide for how to choose the perfect backpack for traveling Europe and our recommended travel backpacks for Europe.
Daypack or Day Bag
You can’t carry around your main travel backpack all day, so you need a smaller daypack. You’ll use the daypack to carry around the basics that you’ll need throughout the day — camera, maps, guide books, notepad, snacks, etc. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite daypacks for Europe that we suggest checking out.
The best way to keep your clothes organized and wrinkle free is by using packing cubes and packing sleeves. When you live out of a backpack, it is super helpful to have everything organized so you can easily and quickly find the things you need. I use eBags packing cubes and Eagle Creek packing sleeves. For more information about how to use packing cubes (or how to properly pack your backpack), check out our guide to properly packing your backpack.
A quick-drying towel is a ‘must have’ travel accessory. These towels feel kind of weird, but they can absorb 2x their weight in water, and they will air dry overnight. This is the reason I choose to use these towels. In addition to being big and bulky, a normal cotton towel will take 2-3 days to dry, and the moisture in the towel will make your bag (and clothes) smell like mold and mildew if you have to pack it.
Note: Travel towels are much smaller than normal towels, so I suggest buying the large or XL size — especially if you have long hair. Or you can buy a large for your body and a medium size for your hair.
Key Chain Flashlight
This is essential. A key chain flashlight is perfect for those nights when you return to your hostel dorm room late — don’t piss off your roommates by turning on the lights at 3am. I also feel safeer when I’m out at night if I have a flashlight, so I always have one with me.
The Streamlight 73001 Nano Light Miniature Keychain LED Flashlight is a great flashlight that is bright and tiny (seriously, this thing is tiny but it puts out a ton of light). I keep it in my bag whenever I go out.
Ear Plugs & Eye Mask
People in hostels will snore. There is no doubt about it. Hearos Ear Plugs are cheap and effective. Additionally, you might want an eye mask for sleeping because people will be coming and going in the hostel room at night.
Always carry a small notebook when you’re traveling because you’ll want to jot down notes of interesting things. I use the timeless Moleskine Notebook, but there are plenty of other options. Plus, this notebook will serve as a great souvenir after your journey is over. Or see my post about making your own travel guide.
Travel Sleep Sheet
In general, hostel sheets are clean, but not every hostel has the same standards of cleanliness. If you don’t want to chance it, I suggest a cotton Sleep Sheet. Cotton can get a bit heavy and bulky, so silk is another option. Not only do Silk Sleep Sacks feel luxurious, they are also lightweight and compressible.
Flexible water bottles are lightweight and hardly take up any room in your pack. I prefer these to the common “Nalgene” bottles because these take up much less space.
If you plan on ever washing your own clothes in the sink, you’ll need a travel sink stopper.
Travel Laundry Soap
Tie the clothesline across your bunk and hang up your wet clothes. I prefer the rubber braided clotheslines because they don’t require any clothespins—you just stick the clothes through the braids. I don’t like the kind with suction cups because they never seem to work well.
Tide To Go Stain Remover Pens are handy for removing stains from clothes. I just threw the pen into my bag and I ended up using it often. Alternatively, these individually wrapped Shout Wipes also work really well.
Some hostels have padlocks for rent, but it is easier to bring your own. I prefer the type that allows you set your own combo because the code is so much easier to remember — especially after a few drinks (but they are a little more expensive).
Master Lock Set-Your-Own-Combination Padlock is a great choice.
A retractable cable lock is essential for locking your backpack to your bunk/luggage rack. It will deter someone from running by and grabbing your bag from your dorm or train car. I used mine all the time, and I’m glad I brought it.
You never know when you’ll need to patch something. Don’t take a whole roll—wrap the tape around a pencil so it won’t take up much space. You can also purchase travel duct tape.
Travel Alarm Clock
Don’t forget an alarm clock because it is easy to oversleep for those early morning flights and trains. Most phones have an alarm clock function, but you might want to pick up a travel alarm clock if you don’t travel with a phone. There are plenty of travel alarm clocks available; just get a cheap one.
A trusty swiss army knife is handy to have if you need to cut something or open up a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, I like to carry on all my luggage when I fly, so a knife is out of the question if you travel by plane.
Digital Luggage Scale
If you plan to only carry on your luggage, you might want to get a digital luggage scale to ensure your bag is under the airline’s weight limit — especially if you purchase things as you travel.
Photocopies Of Important Documents
Make a few copies of your passport and other important documents just in case you lose them. Keep a copy of your passport in your bag. Additionally, you should make digital copies of all your important documents and email them to yourself so you can access them if needed.
Many European cites are filled with pickpockets, and a money belt is a good way to protect yourself. The standard money belt is worn around your waist and under your clothes. Another option (which I feel is more practical) is a neck pouch money belt. Personally, I never liked wearing a money belt, but a lot of people wear them. It is up to you to decide if you feel like you need one.
Trying to find an umbrella in an unfamiliar city isn’t any fun. I suggest buying a travel umbrella before you leave.
I like the Steripod Clip-on Toothbrush Sanitizer covers because they sanitize the brush while the cover is on. I’m not sure how this scientific voodoo works, but it does. Or you can just get a normal toothbrush cover.
Plastic travel utensils are a handy travel accessory. They are great if you want to grab a cheap lunch at a grocery store or you want a picnic in the park. If you want to be a true baller, then check out this titanium spork.
Lint rollers will help keep all that lint off your dark clothes.
I pack a few quart- and gallon-size Ziploc bags because they are great for holding damp or dirty clothes. Ziploc also makes a large 3-gal bag that is nice for storing an extra pair of shoes (so you don’t get your clothes dirty). I also recommend putting your liquid toiletries in a plastic bag so you don’t have an accidental spill.
Electronics Packing List
Read my guide to traveling with electronics for more in-depth advice about using electronic devices while traveling.
Travel Power Strip
Power outlets are a hot commodity in most hostels. It isn’t uncommon for there to only be two outlets in a room with 10 people. A travel power strip can be a lifesaver when you need to charge/power all your devices. Plus, you’ll make a lot of friends when other people can plug into your power strip. This Monster 4-Outlet Travel Power Strip is our favorite (there is also a 6-outlet version).
Dual Voltage Travel Hairdryer and Straighteners
N. American hair dryers won’t work in Europe — even if you have a voltage adapter. If you plug a standard hair dryer into a European outlet, it will fry since European voltage is twice as high as in the US or Canada. You need a dual voltage hair dryer. I love my Babylisspro TT Tourmaline Titanium Travel Dryer because it is powerful, lightweight, and foldable. If you straighten your hair, you’ll also need a dual voltage straightening iron.
Digital Camera and Charger
Everyone needs to bring a digital camera when they travel. Read our guide to picking the best digital camera for travel. Don’t forget the extras…
- Extra Memory Cards: Be sure you have plenty of high-capacity memory cards. One of the worst things is running out of space.
- Extra Battery: Buy an extra battery or two from Amazon. I got two super cheap 3rd-party batteries from some random seller in China, and they were extremely helpful on my trip.
You can use these to help plan your trip, find directions, listen to music, and a ton more. I think these devices make travel much more enjoyable.
Laptop or iPad
Laptops are becoming more popular in the backpacking world. I can’t imagine traveling with a full-size laptop, but a netbook, ultrabook or Macbook Air would be a good option — but I would use an iPad or a Kindle Fire if I could choose. Read more about our favorite laptops for travel for more in-depth advice about traveling with a laptop.
A smartphone is a great travel accessory but make sure you know about international roaming to make sure you don’t rack up a huge bill.
Plug adapters change the plug on your electronics to fit the outlet of the country (The U.K. and Europe are different plugs). Don’t confuse these with “voltage adapters.” Read the savvy guide for traveling with electronics to find out the difference.
Toiletries for Europe Travel
It is pretty amazing how heavy all your toiletries can become. Between the shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, and everything else, it is easy to amass 5-10lbs of stuff (and most is unneeded). Honestly, most of this stuff you can buy once you arrive. Plus, I’ve always liked going to European grocery stores to see what they have. But if you have particular needs, you’ll want to bring those things with you.
Hanging Toiletries Bag
The first thing you should get is a toiletry bag that can hang. Most hostel bathrooms are small and have no shelf space, so being able to hang up your bag is incredibly convenient. I use the Ogio Doppler bag because it is sturdy and compact, but still has a lot of room. This will save you a lot of hassle. If you don’t like the Ogio bag, there are plenty of other Hanging Toiletries Bags.
Pour the liquid into one of those small travel-sized bottles. You can always buy more if you ever need it. GoToob travel bottles get great reviews from travelers.
Toothpaste & Toothbrush
Don’t buy a travel toothbrush—they’re a waste of money and don’t really even work. I just stick with a normal toothbrush and a Ziploc bag. Be sure to get a Steripod Clip-on Toothbrush Sanitizer. Don’t forget the dental floss while you’re at it.
Shaving Stuff (Razors & Cream)
I normally bring a couple disposable razors and a travel shave cream. I buy more supplies as I go.
I’ve found that deodorant in Europe is formulated differently than in N. America. Maybe it is all in my head, but it seemed like it took my body a few weeks to get used to the new formula. You might want to bring your own if you don’t want to chance it.
Chapstick with Sunscreen
Make out sessions are no fun with sunburned lips.
Contacts can be a pain, especially in polluted cities. Eyeglasses might be a better choice.
When I lived in Paris, I noticed that women there didn’t wear nearly as much makeup as Americans do. That’s why I recommend sticking to the basics:
Bright red lipstick — Parisian women seem to never leave the house without sexy lipstick. You can also use lipstick as blush.
BB Cream — BB Cream is a great ‘all-in-one’ product. It is a moisturizer, contains sunscreen, provides light coverage as a basic foundation, and it evens out skin tone.
Mascara — Mascara should be changed every three months, so this is a great excuse to buy a new bottle.
Cream Blush — You really don’t want to have makeup brushes in your bag, so a cream blush is a great option.
Travel Febreze/Fabric Freshener
This is good for freshening up your clothes. I like the travel-sized Febreze To Go.
Travel Size Toilet Paper
You never know when you’ll be out. This is something you really want to get.
Wet Wipes/Baby Wipes
Hopefully, you won’t need them, but they are good to have. I like the Cottonelle Fresh Flushable Wipes because they come individually wrapped so they’re super easy to pack.
Hostels and public transportation aren’t the cleanest places you’ll ever visit…
Go get a few of those free perfume samples from Sephora or a department store. Don’t bring a big bottle because it is too heavy.
First-Aid Packing List
I would pack minimal first-aid supplies because you can get everything easily in Europe. Just bring the very basics.
The prescription needs to be on the bottle/box because some countries will check your medicine when you pass through immigration. I’ve never been asked to present any medicine, but it is possible. Also, make sure you have enough medicine to cover your entire trip. I’m not really sure of the rules about buying prescription medication overseas, but I’m sure it is a hassle.
In many European countries, you can only get medicine (even basic stuff like Tylenol) from a pharmacy. This isn’t really a problem, but some pharmacies have limited hours. Might as well have a few pills on you before you arrive.
For your widdle boo-boos.
Motion Sickness Pills
If you get carsick easily.
Help settle your stomach. The Pepto-Bismol caplets are much more convenient to carry in your bag than the liquid.
Small Pack of Tissues
These are helpful for when you look at your credit card bill.
Stuff You Probably Don’t Need
Here is a list of things that a lot of people bring to Europe but end up never using.
Sleeping Bag: Hostels will provide bedding, and sleeping bags take up way too much space. So unless you are camping or sleeping on someone’s floor, you don’t need a sleeping bag.
The Pacsafe Anti-Theft Bag Protector may seem like a good idea for protecting your backpack but you really don’t need it — especially since most hostels provide safe places to store your bags. These might be better suited for “ sketchier” parts of the world or if you are traveling with lots of expensive electronics. But for most travelers, they just add a lot of weight to your pack. I talked to a few people who had them and everyone said that they stopped using them after a few days.
Water Filter: The water is fine in Europe. You can always buy big bottles of water at the grocery store for cheap.
Valuables: Don’t bring anything that you really don’t want to lose. Leave the fancy jewelry at home. Tech stuff is trickier because it is expensive but sometimes essential for travel. Use your best judgment.
Do a Test Run Before You Go
Load up your bag and see how heavy it is. Walk around with it for 20 minutes. You’ll be surprised how heavy all your stuff can be. You might consider repacking if your backpack weighs too much. Again, I would try to keep your total bag weight around 20lbs. Check out my guide for how to pack your bag or backpack for traveling in Europe.
We recommend picking up some travel insurance — which will help cover your travel gear, flights, accommodation, rail passes, and medical emergencies. World Nomads is our top choice [learn more about Travel Insurance].
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Thanks! — Susan and James